Concerns over the system that delivers oxygen to pilots of the F-22 Tuesday led Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to set flight limits for the fighter jet and add safety measures. The jets must now be flown "within proximity of potential landing locations." The specific restrictions will be drawn by individual pilots and commanders, Pentagon spokesman and Navy Captain John Kirby told the Washington Post. Panetta added other specific instructions in a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. Meanwhile, two pilots who appeared on CBS News' 60 Minutes saying they did not want to fly the jet have reportedly had a change of heart.
In the letter, Panetta told Donley to fit each F-22 with an automatic backup oxygen system and ordered the Air Force to seek guidance from the Navy and NASA. The systems are expected to be in place before year-end. The action comes roughly one week after two F-22 pilots appeared on CBS News' 60 Minutes and explained that concerns over the aircraft's oxygen system led them to choose to not fly the jet. A report by AirForce-magazine.com says both men "want to resume flying the jet" now that charcoal filters initially added as a safety precaution have been removed from the jet's oxygen system. Twelve incidents involving hypoxia-like symptoms were reported between April 2008 and January 2011 by pilots of the F-22. And one fatal crash has been linked to oxygen-delivery problems. The widow of the crash pilot has launched a lawsuit that names Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Honeywell International and Pratt & Whitney. The suit alleges that the aircraft's systems failed to "safely or properly provide breathable oxygen" to the pilot as he flew the aircraft.